Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Tovey Report

The Steins and Toveys made their annual wine pilgrimage to the Willamette Valley this year. Our last trip was in May 2006 and lots of things have changed - new motels, new wineries, new ownership at some wineries. Despite the large numbers of people participating in the three day Memorial Day event, we were able to get around with relative ease. It helped to avoid the big name wineries. Our focus was on wineries only open once or twice a year. Of course, some wineries that are regularly open were closed - Econ 101.

We ate at the following three restaurants. Nick's Italian Cafe is now operated by Nick's daughter and her husband - as usual, excellent food and service. The food and service at Tina's was terrific. Tina's reputation is well deserved. The last night at Maison Bistro, the food was good but maybe a notch below the others.

On the wine front, there were the usual disappointments, some surprises, and a little bit of "wow." Several of the big name wineries had some very good wines, but nothing that said "wow." On the first day, we were able to visit six wineries in the Yamhill area: Aramenta, Groshau Cellars, Beaux Freres, Lachini, Penner-Ash and Patricia Green. We also visited Panther Creek and Eyrie at the end of the day. Our palates were most impressed by Lachini, Eyrie and Panther Creek. At these last two, we were able to taste from the barrel and chat with the winemakers both of whom are young, personable, accessible, and full of great ideas about how to make wine. We thank them for a great way to top off the day.

On Sunday we spent time in the Dundee area visiting Bella Vida, De Ponte, Erath, Lange, Maresh, Tori Mor and Winderlea. The four that caught our palates, were Tori Mor, Maresh, Winderlea and De Ponte. Tori Mor had many outstanding wines. At Maresh, we had a great conversation with Jim Maresh, one of the Willamette Valley pioneer grapegrowers. Winderlea's first Pinot Noir was rich, fruity and well-made. Their new winery building on the newly purchased Goldschmidt vineyard is modern in style with an open feeling and a grand view of the vineyards. The "wow" of the day was De Ponte. Every wine we tasted was outstanding, both the reds and whites. All the wines had a terrific sense of fruit, were rich, and clung to your palette with a long lasting finish - another friendly, open, creative winemaker.

Go! You will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend In The Willamette Valley

Why did we go to the Willamette Valley For Memorial Day Weekend? For the rain? The mist? The fog? The clouds? The crowds? Well, for one thing, it was our semi-annual wine country rendezvous with the Toveys and I had to pick up some Pinot Noir at Ken Wright. The real reason was to taste at wineries that are usually closed to the public most of the year such as Beaux Freres and Lachini. The problem was, though, that others were closed such as Drouhin and Archery Summit. Once again, I should have worn my "So Many Wines, So Little Time" t-shirt. For the sake of efficiency, we spent the first day in the Ribbon Ridge area checking out the ilks of Beaux Freres and Patricia Green. The next day was spent in the Red Hills of Dundee checking out Lange, Winderlea and others. Once again, we were disappointed by wineries where you might have thought that some of the patina had rubbed off some wine God or Goddess. No such luck, but we found some real greats such as Tori Mor and De Ponte lurking nearby. And really close to "home" in McMinnville we tasted some outstanding wines from Panther Creek and Eyrie. The Hinman Chardonnay from our hotel's cooler wasn't bad either for $12.

As is frequently the case, local restaurants put on a spotty performance. Unfortunately we couldn't get a reservation at Cuvee in Yamhill. A lot of "institutions" in the North Willamette are in the process of passing the torch between generations. Nick's, for example, has changed its menu and and its price list. Frankly, I preferred the old Nick's, especially the wine pricing of $8 over retail. The new menu, a 'degustation" or tasting menu required a certain number of course at a fixed price. Some of the dishes such pasta with sea urchin were interesting, others were not. The food at Tina's was good and the service was outstanding. The wine steward was gracious, but the first two wines we ordered were out of stock, so I had to go out to the car to get two bottles purchased at the winery. At least, we were only charged one corkage fee. Maison Bistro had typical French bistro food and some interesting items, but frankly after waiting an hour and a quarter for some food, I forgot what everybody had. Next, look for the Tovey report of our trip followed by more on individual wineries and wines.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Debuts & Discoveries III

Trey Busch at Sleight of Hand continues to work his magic. Seia wines were quite good. Smasne Cellars has the confusing website - "Prosser Wine Company", but the Farm Boy 2006 Viognier and the Red blend are good buys, even with the totally retro labels. Alex Manoni at Stomani Cellars is the only one of the new Atlantic gang of four to offer wines at this point. The others, Barry Wine Co, Elsom Cellars and Falling Rain Cellars will offer wines this summer, when and if it ever comes. all three of the Stomani wines tasted were excellent. The 2007 Pinot Gris is balanced and very fruity. Both the 2006 Cab and the 2006 Sangio were well made and user friendly. Trust Cellars was poured at the same table. Trey and Steve are good friends. The 2006 Syrah was dark and inky with great fruit, a vast improvement over the curiously flat 2005. Two Mountain Winery has been turning out excellent values for several years . I still have a bottle of their 2004 Lemberger in my cellar. Washington Wine Company put on a great show at Woodinville Passport. William Church was mobbed at Passport. All of Michael Haig's wine from Whitestone were excellent. Michael does it all, and does it well. There was only one winery from Oregon, Hood River, in fact. Robert Morus is the only guy I know who wears a signature hat, besides me and Thierry Rautereau, chef and owner of the outstanding Rover's restaurant in Seattle. In appears that Robert is the King of Hood River, having started planting vineyards there in 1989. He was offering very good wines from his vineyards under two labels - Mount Defiance Wine Comany and Phelps Creek. None of the seven caterers seemed to be really new, but the food was really good. A Grand Affaire, Gaudi Restaurant, Herban Feast, Intrigue Chocolates, Joanie's Catering, Landau Catering, and Tuxedoes and Tennis Shoes Catering all did a great job. Landau and Tuxedoes stood out with their skewered meats with chimichurri sauce. I had a particularly interesting talk with Daivid Landau who was born in China and worked in restaurants all over the world until "retiring" to the catering business. Glad he is enjoying himself. That's it, folks. Next, back to the Willamette Valley.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Debuts & Discoveries - II

Where was I? Oh, yeah, Palouse! Well, I guess I missed a bunch of new wineries - Lost River, Lowden Hills, Mercer Estates, Michael Florentino Cellers, Mt Defiance Wine Co. and Naches Heights. Palouse was up to their usual tricks with great wine. Mark Wysling's new winery Parejas (Pa-rey- has) is just barely up and running. He only had the proof for the labels, but it's what's inside the bottle that counts. Mark's four offerings were great. The 2007 Riesling was an expl0sion of floral and fruit aromas followed by a steely, totally dry, tart, fresh, citrusy wine that refreshes the palate. Try it with oysters, seafood, fish, or blue cheese - definitely a food wine, although it would be totally refreshing if we ever got some hot weather around here. The 2007 Rose is an unusual blend of 34% Viognier and 66% Mourvedre. Crisp, but with some body, reminds of French Rose and a great value at $13. Mark and I disagree about the spelling of Cinsault, one of the many grapes grown in the Rhone Valley of France. Apparently both spellings are correct, but I prefer Cinsault. He prefers Cinsaut. No matter, it is very unusual anywhere in the world to find 100% Cinsault. Cinsault is often hugely productive in the south of France where it would result in a thin wine, but Mark made a delicious medium bodied wine full of fruit and perfect with everyday fair such as pizza, hamburger, etc,. The 2006 Red Mountain Syrah is well made and delicious. Shane Howard at Pondera made three very successful wines I preferred the 2005 Melvado for its fruity friendliness and reasonable price of $23. The 2005 Sericus (Latin for silk) is a Bordeaux style Blend also quite good. Where did these guys get all the Latin? Latin school? The Latin Quarter? The last of the trio , 2005 Consensio (Latin for Harmony) is a bigger more structured wine. To be continued....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Debuts & Discoveries

Not all the kids on the block were new, at least not to me. A lot of the "Discoveries" have been discovered by yours truly over the past several years at events such as Taste Washington, Woodinville Passport and Taste Walla Walla. By and large, I did not taste wines from these wineries this time around. Check out my posts from these events for info on these wineries. I also had to skip some newbies. I already mentioned Airfield Estates. I first tasted their wine at Taste Washington this past year. I've been tasting Arlington Road at Woodinville Passport for several years so I skipped them this time around. Didn't get to Blackthorn Mt. Winery or Canyons Edge. Alan Yamaguchi at Cascadia Winery was trained at Davis, and has been making wine for others for many years until striking out on his own with Cascadia. I've tasted Cedargreen several times at Taste Washington. My friend Jayne introduced me to them. Des Voignes was open for Passport this year as was Edmonds Winery. Edmonds has a slightly confusing name since it is in Woodinville, not Edmonds. That's alright Palouse Winery is on Vashon, not in Palouse- doesn't affect the quality of the wines.

Gard Vintners had only one wine to pour, but it was an excellent 2006 Dry Riesling in an Alsatian style. My notes on Griffins Crossing, scratched on the back of a Flying Trout flyer are a little confusing. The wine was excellent - a 2005 Cab from Kestrel vineyard? I totally appreciate the difficulty of getting a winery up and running, but it is a good idea for wineries, especially new wineries to have some tasting notes or at least a price list. Consumers have a hard time remembering just the names of wines they like, let alone what they liked about them and I am one of them, especially after tasting dozens of wines. Gilbert Cellars offered up three winners. Like so many other grapegrowers, the Gilbert family wanted to get in on the action by making their own wine. All three of their wines were of very high quality including the 2005 Estate Malbec, the 2005 Estate Syrah and the 2004 Estate Claret. The Claret was the best buy at $19. Shannon at Hestia Cellars had a complete fact sheet for the three Hestia offerings. The 2006 Semillon had a fabulous nose of Melon and a little oak, an excellent wine. Marty Clubb look out. Shannon's Merlot and Meritage were both excellent, though I preferred the Merlot with its beautiful deep red color, fruity nose, and its soft friendly mouthfeel. Hiney and Skylite, I tasted in Walla Walla last year.

Horan Estates '04 Cab was a winner at $26. I tasted Kana at Taste Washington. Legoe Bay Winery, on Lummi Island, is actually a front for trial attorney Karl Malling. Karl and his wife Susie make delicious wine. In fact, his Reef Net Red medaled at the NW Wine Summit. No website, no price list, but excellent wine. Liam Doyle offered some fine wines from Lost River Winery. Michael Mann at Napeequa Vintners in the Columbia Cascade AVA-in-waiting is producing 1200 cases already. His 2006 Randonee unoaked Chardonnay was totally dry and crisp - definitely a food wine. I actually wrote "Yum" for a Rose - the 2007 "Trillium" must have been pretty good. The 2005 Sangiovese was tangy, but fruity - very friendly. Not only were all three of these wine delicious in own distinctive way but the $16 to $18 price points were a breath of fresh air in this day of wine inflation and overall recession. Norton Arnold - serious wine from an old farm family - seek out these wines. I tasted the 2006 Claret, the 2004 Syrah, and the 2003 Claret. Top quality at a very good price of $21. To be continued....

Friday, June 06, 2008

Speaking Of Divas

Speaking of divas, more and more women are involved in the wine industry. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that women in wine are a bunch of drama queens. Quite the opposite, while we may not have a woman president yet, more women are taking center stage in the wine world. I counted several women winemakers to say nothing of the dozens of women who partner with their husbands and dozens who work behind the scenes. Judith Papesh, winemaker at Falling Rain Cellars, is making wine at 85 Atlantic Artisan Vintners. They are open Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. Better call ahead, since only one of four of these new vintners have actually released any wine so far. Judy's first wines will be released mid-summer this year. "Falling Rain" how apropos and unfortunate a name. How about Stop The Rain Cellars, Sunshine Winery, 70 Degrees And Above or Sundance. Well, let's not rain on Judy's parade - best wishes. Ashley Trout has a knack with words as well as wine. She was one of the winners of "Best Winery Name" with Flying Trout in my post on Bests of Taste Washington. Ashley grew up on the East Coast and was determined to go to school on the West Coast. She attended Whitman College which plunked her down right in the middle of Washington wine country. She worked in the Washington wine industry for nine years before setting out on her own. Ashley could have named her NV Deep River Red, "Amazing Grapes" for it's interesting melange of grapes, vineyards and vintages. This blend of Pepper Bridge Cab, Bacchus Cab, Stillwater Merlot, Stillwater Sangiovese and Phinney Hill Syrah is excellent. Definitely a food wine, Ashley even has a great recipe to pair Dates with Goat Cheese Wrapped in Prosciutto. Look for Amazing Wine from Ashley in the future. Lori Miller is Marketing Director of Airfield Estates. They offer a huge range of wines from Sauv Blanc to Mustang red, but I only got to taste the Merlot, Cab Sauv, and Reserve Syrah all good values at $22. Ali Boyle Director of Marketing at Heaven's Cave Cellars which can be thought of as the winemaking arm of Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyards. In an interesting business model twist, they also produce the Dash Collection where all the profit goes to the Make The Dash Count Foundation. Whatever happened to rapacious capitalism? Check it out at: Oh, yeah, the wine! It's pretty good. The 2005 Dweller Syrah was medium bodied, soft and fruity. You knew from the style that it was a Horse Heaven Hills wine. The 2004 Angel's Blend was good, but only worth it at $45 if you have lots of discretionary cash. the 2006 Nobility Late Harvest Riesling had a great aroma, but was too soft and sweet for my taste. Before I became an enopsychologist and just practiced psychology, all the women told me I worked well with women, and all the men said I worked well with men. What can I say? People are people.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Debutantes And Divas

MOHAI - the Museum of History and Industry, the Museum of Seattle's founding families, of Seattle's early capitalists, fun for children and grownups alike. It must be more than fifty years since Seattle's elite gave up the society Blue Book. When was the last Debutante Ball? Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.! Some forty odd Washington wineries came out to the music of Two Buck Chuck and Slim Pickins. Debuts and Discoveries was organized by wine impresario Daivid LeClaire of Wine Events and Promotions. It was a gas, a kick, totally retro among all the displays of old Seattle, but not the wines, not the food. Eight caterers provided great food to go with the newbie wines. This was truly a chance to discover new wines before they become popular. You could get on any one's mailing list before it closed. For example, Mark Wysling's wine hadn't all been labelled, so you could get in on the ground floor with his excellent and well priced Riesling, Rose, Cinsaut and Syrah. You could taste the great wines from Palouse on Vashon Island or Trust from Walla Walla, or Legoe on Lummi Island. Not all the new wineries in the state came out at this ball, but those that did were not shy. No wallflowers here. Their average quality level was way above what it might have been one or two decades ago. All beauties at this ball. Many of the debutantes presented their cards, but some hadn't gotten around to printed materials yet. To heck with etiquette, the ball was a blast. Check out the blog in future days for posts on individual wineries and wines. BTW, we will just have work backwards to the Willamette Valley, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.

Fifteen Best Buys Under $25 from Showcase

Despite the developing wine bubble, there were several best buys at the Showcase. Some of these good values were deliberately designed as value wines, others are just priced right. Here they are in alphabetical order by winery:

1) 2007 Amaurice Viognier - $25

2) 2006 Balboa Cabernet Sauvignon - $16

3) 2006 Balboa Syrah - $16

4) 2006 Balboa "Cat's Meow" - $16

5) 2007 Bergevin Lane Calico White - $16

6) 2005 Brian Carter "Oriana" - $24

7) 2007 Chinook Cabernet Franc Rose - $15 *

8) 2006 McCrea Roussanne "Ciel du Cheval" - $22

9) 2005 Novelty Hill Merlot - $22

10) 2006 "O" Wines Chardonnay - $13

11) 2006 Rulo Viognier - $18

12) 2007 Syncline Viognier - $18

13) 2006 Syncline Subduction Red - $18

14) 2006 Wilridge Viognier - $20

15) 2006 Wines Of Substance Merlot - $20

* Not Tasted

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Art Or Wine?

To those of you sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for my posts on Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, or the Willamette Valley, my apologies. Life interferes with blogging - carpenter ants, burglaries, dead refrigerators, you know, the usual stuff. Bear with me. We will catch up. But, first, my most recent venture to the Eastside. We went to the Bellevue Art Museum to hear independent scholar, Matthew Kangas give his "Hybridity and Dislocation" talk on the work of our artist friend Sherry Markovitz. A glass of Waterbrook Cardonnay got us off to a good start. The talk was relocated from the Museum to the Westin Bellevue because of demand. On my way to the art forum, I passed through something called The Showcase at the Bellevue Collection. There I spied wine and winemakers. I couldn't resist. How to clone myself?

Fortunately, I had already had had a sneak peak at the Sherry Markovitz show. The first time you see her stuff, it is arresting. Fortunately for my heart I have gotten used to it over the past twenty plus years, but I still love it. You should check it out. Matthew's talk was arresting, too. I imagine that Matthew has much more than a B.S. in Art History, but listening to his musings, associations and fantasies about Sherry's work made me think about the relationship between critic and artist, between wine writer and winemaker. It seemed to me at times that Sherry and Matthew were not just on a different page, but in a different book. It made me wonder if I wasn't in a different book from the winemakers, too. But I saw so many winemakers that I know at "The Collection" that I knew I couldn't stay away, so I crashed the Showcase after Matthew's lecture. I never did figure out what the Bellevue Collection was - a marketing thing, a retail experience?

Anyway, the "Showcase" featured wineries that had received Seattle Magazine's 2008 Washington Wine Award Winners - so many of my favorite wineries, so many Walla Walla wineries paired with culinary delights from ten Eastside restaurants. Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, master of ceremonies so to speak, was unfortunately speechless in Seattle due to laryngitis. He was there promoting his book Perfect Pairings. The best pairing for me was McCormick & Schmick's Endives stuffed with Mango, Avocado, and Dungeness Crab Salad with McCrea 2006 Ciel du Cheval Roussanne. Tasting this combo, you flash on why sommeliers make such a fuss about wine/food pairings. The wine was great, the food was great, the pairing was great.

The Wine - As usual it was impossible to taste them all. Here are my impressions by winery in alphabetical order. As usual Abeja wines were excellent. The 2006 Chardonnay was very good, well balanced, the 2004 Cab Sauv was beautiful, but sold out. Winemaker Anna Shafer at Amaurice served up two whites and a red. Unfortunately, the whites were not sufficiently chilled. Warm wine shows its defects, but there were none. Beautiful 2007 Viognier and 2006 Chardonnay were followed by an excellent black cherry flavored Malbec. Balboa Winery, another Walla Walla winery, offered 2006 Cab Sauv, Syrah and the Cat's Meow. One of the few value wineries in Walla Walla, the price is right at $16, but the Cab and Syrah were not quite as good as last year. The Cat's Meow truly is the Cat's Meow. Beresan presented a 2005 Cab Sauv, a Red Blend, and a Merlot. The Merlot was the standout wine for me - soft fruit at the lowest price of the three. Still in Walla Walla wine country, Bergevin's Calico White was bright and fresh and reasonably priced at $16. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Horse Heaven Hills was full of chocolate and cherries.

Brian Carter's 2005 Oriana was it's usual full flavored cheerful self and the 2004 Byzance was balanced and delicious. Chateau Ste. MIchelle was represented by some of its higher end wines such as Eroica Riesling, Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot and Artist Series Meritage. Unfortunately, I didn't get to taste these. Ditto Chinook, but I am willing to bet that the 2007 Cab Franc Rose was delish as usual. Sadly, no one was there to pour the three winners from Domaine Pierre Noire. Ensemble Cellars issued Release Number Two. These non vintage wines are an unusual blend of the last three vintages. I guess consistency is the goal. Anyway both releases are excellent but pricey. Gramercy Cellars founded in 2005 by New Yorkers Greg and Pam Harrington is one of the new kids in Walla Walla. All three reds from this winery were excellent. The '05 "Lagniappe" Syrah is the best value at $32. Mike Januik's 2005 Lewis Vineyard Syrah was classic. His 2005 Novelty Hill Merlot is a very fruity good value. McCrea's 2006 Roussanne "Ciel du Cheval" is a lush wine and a value at $18. "O" Wines 2005 Chardonnay is an amazing value at $13 retail. This is great glass pour for restaurants.

The Rulo 2006 Viognier and Syrah were quite good, but not quite as good as my memory of previous vintages. The Silo Syrah has been excellent in the past and the new vintage will be released soon. The Syncline 2006 Viognier has pleasant pear flavors, the 2006 Syrah from McKinley Springs Vineyard is tasty, and the Subduction Red easy and seductive. The 2006 Viognier from Wilridge is well made and the unusual 2005 Nebbiolo di Klipsun is light but flavorful, but nothing like a big Nebbiolo from Italy. Wines of Substance makes a good value Merlot at fifteen to twenty dollars and although I didn't get to taste the Woodwood Canyon wines they are usually very good.

Forty-four percent of the wineries were from Walla Walla. What happened to all the Red Moutain wineries, all the Puget Sound Wineries, the Rattlesnake Ridge Wineries. Where are Terra Blanca, Hedges, Kiona? Where are Sheridan, Wineglass, and Massett? Where are DeLille, Cadence, Fall Line, Note Bene, OS, Willis Hall? Walla Walla makes great wine, but as my friend Bob Tovey would say, c'mon folks!

The Food - O/8 Seafood Grill offered sashimi scallops with soy-miso vinaigrette, wasabi aioli and pickled ginger. This Japanese style treat would have been interesting with the Calico White or some of the Viogniers. Cypress presented Teriyaki Beef skewers which were cooked to perfection and would have gone well with almost any of the reds. Godiva Chocolate would have paired best with some of the Merlots. Lucky Strike Lanes' Tuna Midi Burger was an outstanding idea, but not cooked rare enough for my taste. As I already mentioned, the McCormick & Schmick Stuffed Endive was great with the McCrea Roussanne. I never tasted Maggianno's Grilled pear, goat cheese, and arugula crosini. Nor did I Taste Oil & Vinegar's White Truffle Oiled Popcorn. Now that would a trick to pair - probably with the Calico White, a Chard or a Viognier.
Ristorante Luciano's Tortino di patate e cipolla was delish, but the excellent artichokes were hard to eat. The Westin Bellevue offered a spread of all the classic wine accompaniments - cheese, olives, ham roasted veggies. Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill produced Grilled shrimp with guacamole tostada bites - excellent with most of the wines. After all the fuss about pairings, it is a shame that Evan didn't make some suggestions.

Wine or art? Obviously, both! Oh, yes, and food.
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